The Big Sur Lifestyle: deep pockets, deep thoughts

June 19, 1992|By Carole Rafferty | Carole Rafferty,Knight-Ridder News Service

BIG SUR, Calif. -- Not all the rich and famous are searching for a Pebble Beach property and the golfing, clubby lifestyle. In Southern California, more and more Hollywood folks are looking to Big Sur as an idyllic getaway within striking distance of Los Angeles.

"They come here hoping to detensify their lives. They don't come here looking for a suntan or a swimming pool; they come here to suffer some severe introspection," said Robert Cross, a Fox & Carskadon real estate agent, who has specialized in the Big Sur market for more than 10 years.

Big Sur, immortalized by writers like Henry Miller, has been the setting for 26 movies in the last 30 years. While it appeals to the creative, imaginative, artistic crowd, a few decades ago, would-be residents generally were penniless, often sleeping in their cars and finding odd jobs at places like Nepenthe, a restaurant catering to the 6 million tourists who drive through Big Sur each year.

Today, prospective home-buyers drive up in fancy four-wheel drives, or fly to Monterey airport in their own private jets, staying at the newly constructed Post Ranch Inn where nightly room rates range from $290 to $1,500.

Back in the '60s, Mr. Cross, who was writing a thesis on Henry Miller, drove his beaten-up car from Kansas to visit Mr. Miller. He walked up to Mr. Miller's house wearing a cord suit, he recalled, and as he crossed the lawn a ferocious sprinkler system kicked in. By the time he reached the front door he was soaked.

Mr. Miller looked at him sardonically and said, "You must be Cross from Kansas."

Since that first trip, Mr. Cross was enchanted by Big Sur, dreaming always of returning, which he did in 1976. His clients, he said, also suffer the same fascination and peace that Big Sur bestows and that is why prices never, ever decline in that tiny community.

"The rule here is if it doesn't sell in the first year, raise the price," Mr. Cross said.

Beyond the big prices, both Pebble Beach and Big Sur flaunt all the traditional rules of real estate, usually because homeowners -- sometimes owning two or three houses elsewhere -- are not highly leveraged and have no need to sell.

For buyers, interest rates are of little concern in either area. The economy is an afterthought. And prospective buyers are not only buying a piece of property, but also a lifestyle. In Pebble Beach it is the golfing, Republican lifestyle; in Big Sur, the introspective, creative lifestyle, with an intense concern for ecology and the environment.

There are only 600 homes in Big Sur and even the rudest of shacks will sell for $400,000. A recent property listed at $400,000 was sold after multiple offers even before the listing appeared in print. Long gone are the times when you could buy a five-acre plot of land for $35,000 or pick up a converted garage for $100,000.

"You can't even pick up a tourist for that price here!" said Mr. Cross, who advertises exclusively in the Hollywood Reporter and the western edition of the Wall Street Journal.

For the homes that cost upward of $1 million -- no small percentage in this community -- 85 percent of residents are part-timers, people such as CNN founder Ted Turner; actress Rosanna Arquette; actor Steve Martin; Jill Eikenberry and Michael Tucker of "L.A. Law"; and Dean Stockwell of "Quantum Leap," who has a fourth home in Big Sur.

Allen Funt, the creator of "Candid Camera," currently has a ranch on the market. Asking price? Ten million dollars, but this does include 1,210 acres, a main residence and a caretaker house to boot.

Robert Redford is rumored to be searching for a Big Sur property, and Mr. Cross, who has a listing for $1.1 million for a 1,100-square-foot, two-bedroom ranch set on 80 acres, said Mr. Redford inspected the property recently. The ranch has been on the market 1 1/2 years and the owner has turned down three offers even though they reportedly came close to the asking price.

There is no electricity, no telephone connection, and water is taken from a nearby well.

"This is your little million dollar hideaway," said Mr. Cross, pointing out the property, which is three miles off Highway 1, straight up the Santa Lucia mountains. It can only be reached by four-wheel drive vehicle. "One English actress broke down in tears when she saw the view, and no, I won't tell you who she is, but her show will be running next season."

Indeed, the view is spectacular.

"We've had people just stand here quietly for 10 minutes without saying a word. They're stunned," Mr. Cross said.

"I'm told that Robert Redford was in and out of the house like a shot, but spent the whole day hiking around the property."

So far Mr. Redford has not made an offer. Mr. Cross said he was waiting for his phone to ring.

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